I'm creating a sleight of hand–based character and have drawn a fair bit of inspiration from Teller, of Penn and Teller. To further the connection, how can I trade away the ability to speak for a further bonus to sleight of hand?

Ideally this will be doable by a small-sized race.

I'm looking for a way that only involves strict literal interpretations of the rules.


By RAW, you can't.

Unearthed Arcana's guidelines for creating new flaws says:

A flaw must have a numeric effect on a character's specific capabilities. Flaws with primarily roleplaying or story effects have unpredictable effects on game balance.

Given that there is no "numeric effect" of being mute, it can't be created as a new flaw.

There is a flaw that is close to what you want. But it didn't just come from an issue of Dragon magazine, it came from an April issue of Dragon magazine (Issue #330, April 2005). So, it should probably not be counted as official, balanced, or serious in any way.

You must be a 1st-level commoner to take this flaw.

Incomprehensible Accent
Nubdy unstnds wu th hll yi se
Effect: Nobody can understand what the hell you’re saying. Your thick accent even baffles Comprehend Languages and similar magical effects.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I found it online. If it's not in the original, I'll remove it. \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus May 11 '16 at 2:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd argue that being unable to cast spells with verbal components and to employ command-word-activated, spell completion, and many spell trigger magic items might have a "numeric effect on a character's specific capabilities," even though both hindrances can be sort of obviated by another feat (e.g. Silent Spell and--ew!--Vow of Poverty, respectively). \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 11 '16 at 2:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is an effect... but is it numeric? :) \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus May 11 '16 at 4:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Adeptus - The criterion is that a flaw has a numeric effect, not that it (itself) is a numeric effect. \$\endgroup\$ – indigochild May 11 '16 at 4:40

Players Have a "Rule 0" Too

To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing specifically in the rules for making a player mute, and certainly not anything that trades speech for a bonus to skills, let alone Sleight of Hand. However, that shouldn't limit you from being able to play this concept. An oft-overlooked section in the Player's Handbook is the "Customizing Your Character" segment. It explicitly states that you can call any of your feats, features, or skills whatever you want. As long as the mechanics are the same, it doesn't matter what you call it.

You can call your skills, feats, and class features whatever your character would call them. Lidda, the halfling rogue, talks about “footpaddin’” rather than about “moving silently,” so her player writes “Footpaddin’” down on her character sheet to stand for the Move Silently skill. Ember, the monk, calls her Move Silently skill “Rice Paper Walk.”

Enter the Pathetic flaw, from Unearthed Arcana. All the description says is that you are weaker in a given attribute (lit; "You are weaker in an attribute than you should be."). Exactly why you're weaker is left up to the player to define. So, you can use this flaw to simulate a wide range of disabilities. A penalty to Charisma would certainly work to show the difficulty someone has in using communication-based skills without being able to vocalize (in other words, using only sign and body language). Leaving it alone fits what little fluff it is, but as long as the mechanics are correct, the rules not only don't prevent, but in fact encourage having it on your character sheet as "Mute".

In exchange, you could take Skill Focus (Sleight of Hand) if you want to specialize. Or, for a more general approach, something like Deft Hands would work.

"But that doesn't actually make me mute!"

As I said to begin with, muteness isn't something that the rules cover properly. However, your character is what you say they are. If you declare your character mute, never speak in character, and instead communicate through sign language, then your character is mute. Recording the flaw you take as being muteness can help serve to remind you, and to make things clear to other players, as it gives you something on paper you can point to, but it isn't even necessary by the rules. All that's really necessary is for you to state them so. The flaw for feat trade simply serves to get you the bonus you want. Otherwise, you could have a character that is mute, but has developed effective ways of coping simply by not taking any mechanical penalty. The important thing is simply to roleplay it, because at the end of the day D&D is a roleplaying game, not just a dice-rolling game.

I'm sorry if this isn't the answer you're looking for, but using only material from published sources, it is likely to be the closest you can come, and is certainly the one likely to be legal in the most campaigns.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm downvoting this because there is nothing in Unearthed Arcana that suggests that the Pathetic flaw is supposed to represent a disability and so nothing that ties it to being mute. It's an interesting fluff idea but I'm looking for a RAW answer to this question. \$\endgroup\$ – Ceribia May 10 '16 at 8:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer would probably fit the question better, in terms of the asker's request for rules-focused solutions, if it drew on the UA guidelines for creating new flaws rather than conflating license to re-name with license to re-fluff (not that re-fluffing isn't fine and dandy on its own, but it's clearly not what the asker is looking for in this context or they'd do it on their own and not be asking the question). \$\endgroup\$ – BESW May 10 '16 at 8:52
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Re-fluff is implied in renaming. The book specifically uses the example of using licence to rename as a way to have a weapon not listed in the book, by using the stats of an existing weapon under a different name. Obviously, that would only work if the fluff for the weapon goes with that. Not that it matters. Saying that Pathetic is not stated to represent a disability, or being "re-fluffed", is frankly ridiculous. The entire point I was making is that Pathetic is a flaw without fluff. It is a generic flaw for any reason one of your ability scores might be reduced. \$\endgroup\$ – user28753 May 10 '16 at 15:15

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